Day 265: Alfred Hitchcock said mystery is not knowing what will happen to a bunch of guys playing poker; suspense is when only you know there’s a bomb underneath the poker table. Write about a banal event, but start by introducing something that will change everything and only the reader knows is coming.

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The sleeper moves beneath the surface, slowly but surely limbering up its joints and focusing its lidless eyes on the place it knows its target to be. The source of all of its troubles. It can feel the rush as the other sleeping spirits stir, the pilot fish to its presence, spinning in freedom. With a thought, it sends them onwards to its destination. 

“Bedlam, Ms Harker.” Mr Waits, a fat man in a pinstripe suit held his bowler hat awkwardly, turning it and flipping it as if it had to keep moving or it would explode. “Welcome to Bedlam. Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll give you the tour.”

Janet Harker took a step forward to follow, then paused. This was the first turning point. Did she cling to a remnant of her old life, or did she make the break completely? The choice was finally up to her, not an order sent from higher up the chain of command. “Sorry, Mr Waits, but it’s Captain. Captain Harker.”

“Of course, Captain. I apologise for my momentary slip. Shall we proceed?” Waits placed the bowler hat atop his balding head, then began a march down the hallway. They emerged, after the customary small talk, into a cavernous chamber housing an eighteen foot statue of Knoxwood, “Now, this is the main atrium or as we like to call it, the Heart. Now, from the Heart you can access any of our main facilities. Either through the Eyes and Ears, our telecommunications centre in the east corner over there,” he said, gesturing towards one of the largest banks of screens Harker had ever seen. It was decked out like a mission control centre, with people swarming between desks like ants across the ground, shouting into headsets. “From there, we can access all of our facilities remotely. For actual travel, we have the Arteries. You have a question, Miss… Sorry, Captain?”

“You really take this body metaphor all the way, don’t you?” Harker asked, still boggling at the gleaming statue. Knoxwood cut an imposing figure, holding aloft the Sword of Mercy and the Staff of Vengeance. She couldn’t help but feel that it shouldn’t be here.

“But of course. Why would you not? There’s the Legs, our transport division, the Brain, for research and development, Mouth for broadcasting.” As Waits went through the list, he pointed towards the gateways for each one. “Arteries, as I mentioned, is our internal travel. Then of course,” he said with a smile, “We come to the Arms. Private contracting for military operations throughout the world.”

The sleeper howls silently, thrashing against the chains that keep it in place. It can sense a weakness in the links, the smallest fracture that will be its jailer’s undoing. It strains and pulls and eventually, the sleeper shifts. A grin passes across its mouth, impossibly full of teeth as a soundless howl races through the earth. The pilot fish howl in return, transferring just one thought. One goal. 

“Bedlam, as you can imagine, can be quite confusing to the newcomer.” Waits had removed his bowler as they stepped into his office, hanging it up on a hatstand by the door. “After the events of HESSIAN, I would understand if you were to take a step back from the military world.”

Harker’s eyes narrowed. “HESSIAN was supposed to be above Top Secret. How do you…?”

Waits just chuckled. “Captain, what we don’t know about anything would be barely enough to fill the first page of that notebook in your pocket. But that’s what we offer here. Knowledge. Plus the capabilities to use that knowledge. We have everything you could want.”

“I want Castor.”

“I thought you might say that. He’s currently waiting in Bloodstream. That’s our…”

“I’m assuming that’s your medical division.”

“You’re as quick as they say, Captain. Yes, the Sergeant has been with us for a few weeks undergoing retrofit prostheses. The border campaign certainly took its toll on him.”

“That’s enough now, Mr Waits.” Harker leaned against the polished mahogany, very deliberately not sitting in the offered chair. “When would I start?”

Waits took a calendar from the wall and flicked through a few pages. “Well, we don’t appear to have any disasters scheduled for at least six months, so if you’d like to join us… Today?”

“What about all my things?”

“They’re already here. We set you up with a room in Epithelium.”

“Living in the skin. Wonderful. How did you know I’d take the job?”

“Miss Harker, if we didn’t believe with 99.999… I could go on for a while there. But if I were more than a shade from certain that you’d accept the position, you’d never have received the offer. Now, would you care to meet your strike team?”

The sleeper was no more. In its place was a creature that remembered once being a man. It, no longer able to believe in itself as a he, breathed deep and focused on its vengeance. It remember one thing for certain. The cause of all of its troubles. The Brain. But not just that. It was going to tear down the whole thing.  

Bedlam would fall. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil

 

 

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Day 97: A soldier is about to embark on a mission that she knows will kill her.

Captain Janet Harker stood tall in the bright halogens. She held the forty page report in her left hand, staring at the black ink waiting on the innocent white page. The words stamped across it are blades that cut deep into her soul.

MISSION REPORT.

OPERATION CALICO

15 JULY 2020

She focused her dark green eyes on those words, raising the glass of whisky in her right hand to rise to her lips. A slow sip later, and she flicked through the pages, one by one until she reached the final page. She read those printed words aloud, rolling them around her mouth, off her tongue.

‘We find that the actions undertaken on 15 July 2020 lead to the approval for OPERATION HESSIAN. The intelligence gathered and potential further intelligence outweighs the risk. Following the overwhelming success of CALICO, Captain Harker will lead HESSIAN. Briefing is 13 December at Renfield Barracks.’

She grasped the papers tight. HESSIAN had been an insane proposal. A full frontal assault on the border, intended to push the Aberinese back to Carapur. CALICO had revealed a weak point in the Aberinese defences, a tendency to cluster to the sides and leave an effective chute through the middle. It would be suicide to take a section through the centre, but a positive enough thrust could get them to follow, leaving them to get rounded up by the following company.

And that’s what HESSIAN was. A run down the centre. They were asking her to lead her men to their deaths while they sat in their offices. Some of them haven’t seen active service in fifteen years and they were expecting the charge. It was madness.

She picked the phone from her desk. Slowly punched in eleven numbers.

‘Castor.’ A groggy voice rolled slowly through the speaker, like thunder over the plains.

‘Cas, it’s Harker. I need to see you.’

‘Harker? Are you for real? It’s four o’clock in the fucking morning?’ Sergeant Castor Ferkin had responded in his usual manner. Gruff, but vaguely well meaning.

‘Cas, I’ve not got time for the crap. Get to my office. Now.’ She ended the call before he could protest, then smoothed her uniform down. She took long strides to the desk and poured another glass of whisky. A large one this time.

It took Castor twenty-three minutes to get to the office. Not that Harker knew, she just registered it as three whiskies. He broke her from her stupor by crashing through the door like an angry bear, his shirt buttoned up in the wrong holes, odd socks adorning his feet. ‘This had better be something big, Harker.’ He growled. For most people, that would be hyperbole but Castor’s voice was a genuine growl, a legacy from CALICO.

Thirteen men  had been captured, Castor among them. Aberine practice was to cut a prisoners throat and dump his body in the river. They called it returning, part of their religion. Well, Castor got returned. They slit his throat and dumped him like illicit chemicals into the Arabine. Whoever killed him did a real botch job though. His vocal cords took some damage, but the tendons in his neck had stopped the knife cutting the carotid. Hence the growl.

Harker just pushed forward the crumpled stack of paper, taking another sip of whiskey as he picked the papers up, rifling through them.She placed her black boots on the desk, staring into the glass. ‘We’re going back to the border, Cas. They approved HESSIAN.’

‘They approved it.’ Castor put one of his giant hands against his scarred throat, pulling at the skin in desperation. ‘Well, shit.’

I think I’ll be returning to this world in a future episode. I’m enjoying the characters and scenery, but unfortunately, like all mortals, I have to sleep and have a tendency to get caught up in this sort of thing. So, stay tuned. Captain Harker and Castor will be back. 

The Idiot in Tin Foil